Monday, November 30, 2009

The End

Dear friends,

On October 22, I returned to Guatemala after leaving the service of the Peace Corps to finish up two projects. First, I returned to my village to distribute thirty-seven portraits to students of the sixth grade class there. It was wonderful. The village decorated and prepared a party for me. I felt appreciated and welcomed, something I did not always feel while I lived there. The students received their portraits with great joy, and I felt good about the whole thing. Some of the students from a younger grade danced for us, another young man recited a poem, and afterward we were served cake. It is my dear hope that they will cherish these portraits as a good memory of their childhood forever. I also hope that those who worked on the paintings, to whom I am eternally indebted and unbelievably grateful, understand a little bit more about Guatemala and its inhabitants.

The second thing I finished was completing a purchase of a hearing aid for a young girl in my village. You might remember Doris from an earlier post. I was able to pay for her hearing aid, which her family picked up later that week. I have since spoken to her family on the phone, and they say that Doris’ hearing and speech has already improved. I’m thankful to Living Waters for the World and the Garcia family for working to make that happen.

Now that I have no ties of duty binding me to Guatemala, I have had time to reflect on what it all meant in the grand scheme of things. The past year was difficult, in a lot of ways, but it has left me so filled with gratitude. I’m grateful to my host family during training, for caring for me when I was sick, and for putting up with all of my cultural faux pas and for treating me as nothing less than a member of their own family. I’m grateful for Doña Feliza and Doña Ana, for teaching me some Mam, and maybe saving my life the time I got lost on the side of a mountain. I’m also grateful to a hundred strangers on the bus or in the market who told me to watch my back or offered a smile or an orange on a sad day. Never in my life have I been so indebted to so many people.

I’m also thankful for all of you readers back in the states. Thanks for your comments, your prayers, your positive energy, your donations, your letters—everything. Every postcard or email was monumental to me.

I’m hopeful about the future of Guatemala, not so much because of government aid or because of people like me, living among them for a year, but because of the ingenuity and irrepressible spirit of these people. They have survived 500 years of conquest, a recent genocidal civil war and a currently dysfunctional government. They’ve survived with their native dress and language, though tattered, intact. It is my cautious belief and fervent hope that one day soon they will live up to the promise of Guatemala and their true birthright—peace, justice and prosperity.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

one great day

A few months ago, Living Waters for the World came to an aldea of my site and put in a water purification plant.  It's really cool, makes great water and is working well since it got started.  They worked with a local family to put it in, and while they were there they fell in love with the 10-year-old daughter, a beautiful, sweet little girl named Doris.  They also realized that Doris is mostly deaf.  Her hearing loss is so severe that she has never been able to learn Spanish, and only speaks a little Mam.  When LWW left, they asked me to look into finding an ear specialist for Doris and offered to help with the expenses.  

Friday, Doris, her mother and father, and I went to Guatemala City to see a specialist and get a special hearing test done--one that's only offered in the capitol.  This is a 7 to 8 hour trip for someone coming to my village.  Which is not to mention braving the dangers of the city.  Thankfully, we all arrived on time and in one piece at the doctor's office bright and early Friday morning.

Doris' mother stayed in the waiting room.  I went up with her father.  The doctor, a portly Ladino man who said everything with a dramatic flourish, asked her father a few questions about her general health, then took off her ponytail holder and started to massage her scalp and her face.   Then, without warning, he took a pair of scissors off his desk, and began to cut a quarter-sized bald patch on Doris' scalp.  

"Uh...whatcha doin' that for?" I asked.  

"Oh," he said, nonchalantly.  "It's so the electrode will stick on better."  

Like so many moments I have had in this country, I maintained a somewhat placid facade, while my mind scrambled to make sense of the situation and I personally resisted the urge to panic.  Electrodes??? I thought.  What is going on?  What have I gotten this poor family into?  

After a preliminary ear exam, the doctor bade her lie down on a small exam bed.  He then got out four electrodes and proceeded to place one on the tiny bald patch on her skull, one on the middle of her forehead, and one behind each ear.  

"¿La va a doler?"  I asked.  Will it hurt her?

"No," the doctor assured me she wouldn't feel a thing.  I was skeptical, given the fact that what I knew about electrodes involved electroshock therapy or torture devices.  

"¿No la va a dar un choque?"  It won't shock her?

Finally, Mr. Bedside Manners explained that the electrodes only measured brain activity, to see if her ears were sending signals to her brain.  

He then showed us a graph of a normal ear's hearing patterns.  It looked like a mountain range, with five distinguishable points representing different phases of the test.  

The computer began to read Doris' activity.  Where there should have been peaks and valleys, there was nothing but an empty horizon.  No activity.  My  heart froze.  The doctor confirmed my worst fears as he explained to her father and me that the results showed complete deafness in her right ear.  Something the most powerful hearing aid in the world couldn't hope to fix.  

The doctor, explaining the procedure the whole time with his typical unnecessary gravitas, waxed philosophical.  "As you know...we are all capable...of making...errors.  And...I have made an error just it seems the electrodes are not connected to the computer."

Once again, my mind reeled.  What kind of a quack was this?  What if he hadn't noticed?

The computer started a new reading.  Foothills, ridges, and yes, small mountains appeared where before there was nothing but a flat line!  We knew then Doris could hear in one ear and that a hearing aid could potentially help a lot.  

Her left ear showed much less promising results.  But one ear is enough to develop much better speaking, comprehension and social skills.  

Poor Doris!  The test took about 45 minutes, all told.  As the doctor removed the headphones and the electrodes, I could see a little tear starting to slide down her cheek.  As she got down off the table she started bawling.  I offered to go fetch her mother, but the men in the room thought it wasn't necessary.  "It's over, it's over," they said.  I gave her a Strawberry Shortcake pin I had saved from a birthday party goody bag, and she cheered up a bit (thanks Charlotte).  

Afterwards, we went to the Guatemala Zoo.  Now, let me tell you.  If you ever are having a hard time, a depressing season of your life, go to the zoo with a child--or anyone--who's never been before.  The wonder of seeing a live giraffe, tiger or kangaroo for the first time is positively infectious.  Doris' favorites were the meerkats, and we practically had to drag her away from the monkey habitat.  

Friday was one great day.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

love and mucus sucker balls

Hi Everyone!  

Well, Project 1 has finally been accomplished.  Today I gave out the midwife kits to 11 local midwives.  They were very excited and receptive to get stethescopes, mucus sucker balls, gauze, gloves, a nylon sheet, baby wash, umbilical cutters, umbilical twine, and more.  Many thanks to all of you who helped.

Learning to use the stethoscopes.

Saying "thank you."

The ladies and their kits.  Aren't they a good looking bunch?

Monday, May 25, 2009

facing it

Young people hard at work on the portraits I mentioned in a previous post.  Thanks guys, lookin' good!

Friday, May 22, 2009

the Franco years

This is Franco, my little buddy.  I lived in his house during my first four months in site.  He is what grandparents would probably refer to as "a little stinker."  Around here, he's just travieso.  In fact, he once threw a rotten tomato at me.  However, at the end of the day, I can't help but love the little guy.  We have a lot of fun playing soccer, and I appreciate his imagination.  I went over to their house for dinner last night, and he held up a tortilla, told me it was his motorcycle, and started zooming it around the table.  He also once played soccer with a plastic coke bottle.  Sometimes the armchair psychologist in me thinks that some of his meanness is from separation issues, because his father has been in the United States for pretty much his whole life.  

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

i project

So, I thought I would let you all know about the little projects I am working on right now.  They aren't vast, expansive efforts carefully researched for their sustainability.  One of them isn't even really related to my program at all.  But they are things I think I can do, that I am interested in, which I think have the potential to improve some people's lives just a little bit.  

Project 1:
As I have written before, the local midwives (comadronas) meet for additional training once a month in the Puesto de Salud, where I lead a charla.  We started out talking about things like hygiene during the birth, giving good prenatal care,  danger signs in the pregnancy, birth and newborn.  Then things got technical.  I began doing a lot of research every month and spoke to them about how to cut the cord and care of the placenta.  Finally, we have started to cover broader topics like domestic violence and sexuality.  These ladies are fun.  They are also very intelligent.  Unlike some other groups, they come to every meeting ready to learn.  They participate and add their own comments.  So, when a women's organization called the Zonta Group out of Sarasota, FL with the motto "Advancing the status of women worldwide" donated kits for midwives, I was very excited.  Because almost everything in the kits is disposable, I looked for things to supplement them, like stethoscopes to hear the fetal heartbeat, and those little mucus-sucker-ball thingys.  The kits, while an amazing and generous gift, were a little disappointing when we realized that each one could probably only used for one birth.  I am still looking for more TempoDOT themometers (so they can tell if a woman has a fever--a danger sign) and some rags.  Even though it's not the most sustainable gift, I think it will help the midwives and raise consciousness about hygiene.  Also, I feel good about giving this donation to a group that works hard and always comes in to charlas.

Project 2:
Because of the scarcity of digital cameras, money to make prints, etc, most people have few pictures of their children.  Also, exposure to the arts is limited.  Likewise, I live in a mostly forgotten corner of the world that is not remarkable enough to merit significant coverage in geography or social studies classes.  So, a couple of months ago, I took pictures of all of the students in the sixth grade, and sent them to an art teacher from my home town, Kathy Thompson.  She found a group of artists and interested youth who will paint portraits based on the photos I sent earlier (most of them are from Epworth First Baptist Church, as I understand it, although there are other community partners as well).  Students here will receive portraits of themselves that will hopefully become a cherished keepsake for them and their families for many years.  The artists will receive some cultural education about life here in this rural Guatemalan village as well as the satisfaction of brightening the life of a child.  The portraits are currently under way and should arrive mid to late June.  

So, those are the long term projects I am working on.  If you are interested in getting involved, there are ways you can help!  Just leave a comment or email me.   Many thanks to the Zonta club, Mrs. Thompson, Epworth First Baptist, Demosthenian Literary Society, Len and Carol Crawford and all other community partners involved in these exciting projects!